Last updated July 14, 2015
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Burnout and Self-Care in Social Work

A Guidebook for Students and Those in Mental Health and Related Professions

Burnout and Self-Care in Social Work is an essential read for students and mental health professionals. Smullens delves into the primary factors that can lead to burnout and offers research-backed strategies for self-care. The guidebook taps an unmet need of those who work in mental health, providing a pathway to happiness and a long-lasting career.

Aaron T. Beck, MD

Emeritus Professor of Psychiatry
University of Pennsylvania


This book was born out of the tragedy of a six-year-old child shackled to his bed and starved by his parents. The judge who heard the case ignored the recommendations of a newly minted social worker—the author. How many similar stories can professionals witness before empathy coarsens and compassion dulls? SaraKay Smullens has lived through all of this and has written a book for those working the frontlines. She combines a wealth of personal experience with scholarly analysis. The book is both practical and inspirational, a gift to her profession.

Roger Gould, MD

Psychiatrist and author


SaraKay Smullens has seen far too many committed social workers leave the work they arduously trained for frustrated, exhausted, and burned out, and she is determined to do something about it. Through thorough research on burnout and self-care, a survey of social workers offering real-life observations, excellent case examples, reflective questions, and a sprinkling of her own experiences, she has written a book that clarifies, educates, guides, and uplifts. This book underscores the breadth, depth, commitment, and passion of a much underestimated profession.

Linda May Grobman, MSW, ACSW, LSW

Publisher/editor, The New Social Worker magazine


SaraKay Smullens’s astutely written book is a gift to everyone whose demanding occupations—particularly those involving traumatized and vulnerable men, women, and children—often lead to the emotional and physical inoperability known as burnout. In her two-part examination, SaraKay deftly explores burnout and self-care through professional, personal, social, and physical interactions, illuminating the origin and toll of the three major causes of burnout—compassion fatigue, countertransference, and vicarious trauma (and how vulnerable all are to their impact). She illuminates the road to achieving and maintaining ‘compassion satisfaction’ through introspection, respectful boundaries, and empathy (rather than sympathy or pity) and creatively documents self-care alternatives. As a medical writer and reporter, I applaud this thoroughly researched, evidence-based journey, where obstacles are faced, understood, and removed, resulting in renewal for practitioners and new options and possibilities for their clients.

Gloria Hochman

Bestselling author, with Patty Duke, of A Brilliant Madness: Living with Manic-Depressive Illness


Burnout and Self-Care is an engrossing and comprehensive treatment of a most critical and complex topic in social work today. Service providers will undoubtedly benefit from SaraKay Smullens’s insights into recognizing and overcoming burnout and equipping themselves with the tools to build self-care into the heart of their practice. This fundamental self-actualization is the cornerstone of any truly successful individual within the social work profession and beyond.

John L. Jackson, Jr., PhD

Richard Perry University Professor and dean
School of Social Policy & Practice
University of Pennsylvania


Finally!  A book that  nurtures, prepares, and strengthens an internal experience and offers terrific strategies and smiles for a wide audience in a familiar voice we deeply respect.  We are so pleased to endorse our mom’s, stepmom’s, and mom-in-law’s book.

Elisabeth Joy LaMotte, LICSW

University of Pennsylvania

Kathyanne Schless, Esq.

University of Pennsylvania

Elizabeth Smullens Brass, MFA

Art Institute of Chicago

Deborah Block, MFA

Temple University


Burnout and Self-Care in Social Work is a vitally important and timely book by an extraordinary individual who has been on the frontlines of this issue for decades and writes with deep insight, clarity, and unparalleled empathy for all concerned. I was pleased to be president of Scribner when SaraKay published her first book.

Franklyn Rodgers, BS

University of Pennsylvania


When social workers choose to help the most vulnerable children and adults, they are exposed to intense demands for compassion, understanding, and love. The ability of the professional to function in the service of others can be compromised by burnout, fatigue, and his or her own need to be valued. No better guide can be found than SaraKay Smullens’s book on how the therapist, educator, and counselor can remain healthy to be helpful. It should become a basic text in this neglected field.

David Sachs, MD

Emeritus Clinical Professor of Psychiatry
Hahnemann University


I have known and admired SaraKay Smullens for over four decades. Her latest work is illustrative of why she is the wisest woman I know. In these draining, complicated times, as burnout seems to wait in the wings for us, this text offers crucial information. If you are not in SaraKay’s field, skim (or skip) the detailed research and read the clear explanations and case studies. Study the three primary causes of burnout, pinpoint where you may be vulnerable, and learn what to do about it. SaraKay describes the potential of the self and how to achieve what she calls “an emotional sense of direction” in illuminating ways. Her exploration of empathy is a guide to mature, compassionate relationships. As you read, your eyes may mist, but you will also smile. This book is about far more than burnout and self-care. This book is about love.

Bonnie Strauss

Journalist and documentary filmmaker